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Utility player makes first Opening Day roster

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Steve Pearce has never won a roster spot with the Pirates out of spring training. He's never spent Opening Day in the major leagues.

Despite his talent and dogged work ethic, circumstances always conspired against Pearce. There would be one or two players -- guys making more money, with more experience -- ahead of him at first base and right field, or he'd sustain an injury at the worst possible time.

In each of the past three springs, Pearce's camp ended with a cleaned-out locker and an assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis.

This year, finally, will be different.

The three players Pearce was battling for the backup corner infielder job have all been cut from camp, meaning Pearce has made the team.

"That's awesome," Pearce said. "I've been fighting for this spot ever since 2008. Three years later, it means the world to me. It's everything I've wanted."

Pearce, 27, was an eighth-round draft pick in 2005. Two years later, he had a breakout season that began in Class A and ended with him playing 23 games in the big leagues.

By the numbers
Steve Pearce's minor and major league stats:
Level Avg G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO
Minors .292 554 2042 336 596 166 92 394 222 359
Majors .240 135 371 42 89 27 8 42 38 83

Over the past three seasons, Pearce went back and forth between Indy and Pittsburgh. Offensive struggles and injuries to his ankle, calf and knee kept him from sticking with the Pirates.

"Everybody runs into rocky times, but his didn't come until he reached the big leagues," said Neil Walker, who's known Pearce since they were in A ball in 2006. "He's been able to push through it. That's what's made him the player he is at this point, his mental toughness."

During his amazing run in 2007, Pearce hit 31 homers in the minors. But in the three years since, he's hit a total of 36 -- including just eight in 371 at-bats in the majors.

"I'm not worried about that," Pearce said. "Once you get the line-drive swing, the home runs will come. I feel I'm way ahead of where I usually am at this point. I've never really had a good spring training, so I'm way ahead."

Pearce is batting .283 this spring and has five doubles among his 13 hits. More importantly, he increased his versatility by working at two new positions, third base and left field.

"The kid works hard," third baseman Pedro Alvarez said. "He deserves it. He's a pretty humble guy, very dedicated at what he does."

Pearce played some third base in college, so he wasn't starting from zero at the position. After working there a couple of days, his instincts returned quickly.

"Honestly, I've surprised myself a little bit," Pearce said. "I've felt comfortable everywhere they've stuck me. I've answered everything they wanted me to do. I think I've exceeded expectations."

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